A suspected U.S. drone strike killed the No. 2 commander of the Pakistani Taliban on Wednesday, Pakistani intelligence officials said, although the terrorist group denied he was dead.
If confirmed, the death of Waliur Rehman would be a strong blow to the terrorist group responsible for hundreds of bombings and shootings across Pakistan. The United States has a $5 million bounty out on Rehman, who Washington has accused of involvement in the 2009 suicide attack on a U.S. base in Afghanistan that killed seven Americans working for the CIA.
Missiles fired by a U.S. drone slammed into a house early
Wednesday in Miran Shah, the main town of the North Waziristan tribal region, killing five people including Rehman, Pakistani officials said.
Two officials said their informants in the field saw Rehman’s body, while a third said intelligence authorities had intercepted communications between terrorists saying Rehman had been killed. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban denied the reports.
“This appears to me to be false news. I don’t have any such information,” said Ahsanullah Ahsan.
White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to confirm if Rehman was dead. He said if the reports were true, Rehman’s death would deprive the militant group of its chief military strategist involved in “horrific attacks” on a CIA base in Afghanistan and other attacks against Pakistani civilians and soldiers.
Most of North Waziristan is under militant control, and journalists cannot access the rugged region near the Afghan border, making independent confirmation difficult.
The missile attack was the first since Pakistan’s May 11 elections in which the American drone program was a hotly debated topic.
It was also the first strike in Pakistan since President Barack Obama’s speech last Thursday during which he discussed more restrictive rules he was implementing on drone use in places such as Pakistan and Yemen.
The tribal region in northwestern Pakistan is home to local and Afghan militant outfits, including al-Qaida-linked fighters. The U.S. has often criticized Pakistan, saying it does not vigorously target terrorists in these areas who then attack American troops in Afghanistan.